Trevor Noah sets himself apart from his colleagues through his unique outsider’s perspective on America.
Trevor Noah, the South African comedian-turned-host of “The Daily Show,” isn’t shy to be seen as an outsider. Born and raised in apartheid-era South Africa to a black mother and a white father, he was a mixed-race child whose birth was a literal crime. Noah rose rapidly to fame when Jon Stewart plucked him seemingly out of obscurity (though he’d received notable success outside America) to replace him on the Daily Show. Ever since, Noah has distinguished himself from his late-night talk show colleagues by utilizing his unique perspective as an outsider to make insightful commentary on American life and politics.
Noah initially planned his “Loud and Clear” comedy tour for late 2018, but after losing his voice, he rescheduled his shows for Spring 2019. On May 11, he performed at the SDSU Viejas Arena to a screaming crowd of all demographics. In fact, the first thing you might notice walking into a Trevor Noah comedy show is just how varied the audience is. Audience members at the arena ranged from college students to parents to elderly couples.
In “Loud and Clear,” Noah’s jokes are the jokes of a pseudo-researcher presenting his earnest observations of an alien species — Americans, usually, but not always — to that alien species. He conducts his comedy with an air of mock outrage and wide-eyed bewilderment, from his exasperation toward the furious honking culture of California drivers to his horror of the “secret world” of women’s periods. When he raises his discoveries, it isn’t with judgment, but rather with gleeful surprise and bafflement. In one of his most entertaining bits, Noah (who speaks an impressive six languages) tells an anecdote about his experience visiting a German sandwich shop, laying out the story with a delightful array of different voices and accents. After speaking with the waitress in German and seeing her react in fear, he had the awkward discovery, “The manner in which I speak my German is, ah, vaguely reminiscent of Hitler.”
Another comical bit involves Noah giving the men in the audience a surprisingly educational lesson on menstruation products. At one point, he addresses every man in the front row, urging, “Do you know what a diva cup is? Do you?” When every man shakes his head, Noah laments the state of society in mock outrage and explains in clinical detail the purpose of a diva cup. Growing up with a single mother determined to educate him about women’s issues, he learned about women’s bodies from an early age. He spins this story into an honest and respectful discussion of the Me Too movement, acknowledging his own privileges and blind spots as a man with a charming humility. The comedy bit isn’t targeting the women whose lives he doesn’t understand; it is targeting the men who refuse to take the initiative to learn about women.
Many comedians can often rely on somewhat mean-spirited comedy for their performances, entreating the audience to laugh along with them at some “other.” The audience is treated as an in-group — we are in on the joke, we are the intelligent ones, we know what’s normal and what isn’t. No matter what, the audience is always laughing at someone — it can be at the ridiculousness of another culture, of millennials, or of baby boomers. Conversely, Noah often positions the audience, and himself, as the butt of the joke. We are all ridiculous, and so many of our actions make no sense. We are laughing at ourselves, and at the same time, we are learning about ourselves as well. We are learning about our own culture, our own weird social tendencies, from the perspective of someone who was raised outside of it. The connecting tissue of most of Noah’s comedy involves his own discoveries about other people’s lives. He is a person who delights in learning new things about the world, and we as the audience get to watch him relay his discoveries. In that reasoning, it makes perfect sense why an audience at a Trevor Noah comedy show would be of so many varied ages and races. There is no age limit on wanting to learn more about the world.
Date: May 11, 2019
Venue: Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl SDSU
Image courtesy of dallasobserver.com.